Weekly Local Biography

  Andrew Watt

“Not on feather beds shall we go to heaven,” said St. Thomas Moore, and this is one of Lt. Col. (Retired) Andrew Watt’s favorite quotations. It foreshadows his life. A Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), he was born in Lansdowne, India, in a military hill station “at eight and a half thousand feet, with a hurricane lamp and a Gurkha midwife,” according to his mother. There was no feather bed. His father was an officer in the British-India Army before India gained independence in 1947. Afterwards the family returned to England, and his father became a member of the Royal Artillery.

A bit of a history lesson is indicated for those of you who may be like me, and aren’t familiar with the Gurkhas. A martial tribe of highlanders from Nepal, they fought against the British while defending Nepal in the 1800s. The British, however, were so impressed with their fighting ability that they were asked to join the British Army. Today they remain a small part of that army.

Back in England, young Andrew attended Beaumont College in Windsor, a Jesuit institution. He absorbed a wealth of knowledge through Jesuit teachers for ten years, and considers himself “incredibly lucky” to have found the Jesuit fathers of Seven Fountains Spirituality Center here in Chiang Mai. After Beaumont, he attended the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst for two years of cadet training for his own military career as an officer with the 10th (Princess Mary’s Own) Gurkha Rifles.

He was sent to Malaysia and spent the next five years in operations against the “Undeclared War”. He considers this a military success story, unlike the conflict between the United States and its allies against North Vietnam. He tells a story of chatter between an unidentified American pilot and himself during this era. The radio contact between the pilot and his base broke into the radio that Andrew was using and they bantered good-naturedly about interrupting each other’s war. Calling one another “Limey” and “Yank”, the pilot complained that they had a war to fight and were too busy to talk. But Andrew quipped that they also had a war to fight, and “we’re winning ours”. Many years later, he saw the story of that exchange written up in the Readers’ Digest.

Andrew went from the Undeclared War to Hong Kong and the 1967 Cultural Revolution. Military hot spots were his forte. China was fragmented during the Cultural Revolution, and sometimes the official policy was not the policy implemented in the provinces. Many Chinese people tried illegally to cross the border into Hong Kong, and Andrew spent fourteen years working on that border.

Two years were spent in Brunei, and a tour of Cypress followed during the 1974 invasion by Turkey. He spent time in Germany and Katmandu. Time passed and with it came the end of the Cold War. The British military was reduced by one third. This was Lt. Col. Watt’s opportunity to retire from the military after a distinguished thirty-one year career. He returned to England.

But like a lot of young retirees, Andrew didn’t stay retired. He spent ten years with the Ministry of Defense in the United Kingdom as a civil employee, a Retired Officer (RO), and became very involved with the welfare of Gurkhas who had served military time but had no pension. The Gurkha Welfare Trust became a primary interest, and he gave lectures to Rotary Clubs, Masons and other service organizations to generate interest and donations to the fund. He organized charity events to benefit the Trust. He spread the word – the Gurkhas served our country; they need our help. Their one time only severance pay has run out.

He also volunteered with the Home Office as a Prison Visitor. His job was to interview perpetrators of sex crimes, primarily rapists and pedophiles, and make recommendations as to their placement within the prison setting. Most requested protective custody to protect them from the rest of the prison population, who are noted for being intolerant of this type of crime. In the course of this volunteer work, he was shocked by the amount of illegal drugs coming into the prisons and being used by prisoners, and equally shocked by the numbers of people on remand. Remanded prisoners are people accused of crimes, but not yet tried or convicted. Some spend over a year on remand, and are released for time served if they are eventually convicted. Because they have been convicted of no crime during the period of remand, they receive no treatment for substance abuse or other problems, and no job training. They are sure to become recidivists in the criminal justice system.

Andrew and his wife, Pippa, had vacationed in Thailand off and on since 1976 and they simply fell in love with Chiang Mai. When he finally decided to retire, it made no sense to them to commute between two countries. They came here to live in 2004. He began to spend his days playing golf, working out, participating in the activities at church and looking for worthwhile charity projects. Then The Letter arrived, most unexpectedly.

10 Downing Street announced that Lt. Col. Andrew Watt’s name was being sent to Her Majesty for consideration of the MBE award because of his service to the Brigade of Gurkhas. The results of Her Majesty’s decision would be announced in the London Gazette on December 31, 2004. And they very happily were.

So the Andrew Watt family and friends met in Bangkok for this most prestigious occasion. The British Ambassador awarded the MBE to Andrew, and all of them celebrated. Then Andrew and Pippa came back to Chiang Mai and continued their new life. He has learned about the “Thai yes” and is earnestly practicing ‘jai yen’. After a long military career, it’s a difficult skill to acquire. He isn’t looking for feather beds or heaven just yet, but he knows that Chiang Mai is very close to finding both on earth.